Climate Science Is Not “Settled”

Neither how the globe is warming nor how much humans are responsible for it is understood.  (click for credit)

Neither how the globe is warming nor how much humans are responsible for it is understood.
(click for credit)

Unfortunately, because of the college class I am teaching, a looming publishing deadline, and an upcoming speaking engagement in South Africa, I don’t have time to write a full blog article. However, a man I respect and admire sent me a link to a Wall Street Journal article about climate change. The Author is Dr. Steven E. Koonin, a theoretical physicist and member of the National Academy of Sciences. The article is an excellent example of how to approach the issue of climate change from a truly scientific perspective. Unfortunately, you rarely find such an approach in most discussions of the subject. In my opinion, here is the best point he makes:

Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is “settled” (or is a “hoax”) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences.

I couldn’t agree more!

5 Comments

  1. Clint Harris says:

    Dr. Jay:

    I’m glad to know that you’re teaching again!! I came across this article today that is rather disconcerting….not directly related to the climate change “pseudo-religion”, but consistent with hardcore liberals’ incremental desire to indoctrinate cradle-to-grave (and taking advantage of a tragedy).

    Send me an e-mail sometime 🙂

    Clint Harris

    http://Www.city-journal.org/2014/eon1005mh.html

    1. jlwile says:

      It’s good to hear from you, Clint! You are right; that is a disconcerting article. What’s really odd is that the article admits the young man was monitored the entire time he was homeschooled. In his case, then, monitoring didn’t help. It seems the decision has nothing to do with preventing another tragedy. Instead, like you suggest, it is about cradle-to-grave indoctrination.

  2. jasonp says:

    Hi Dr. Wile,

    I’m homeschooling my kids with Exploring Creation with Physical Science (2nd ed.) and we’ve had some good discussions in Module 2 regarding global warming. I was a bit bothered by the certainty implied in the test question, “Has the average temp of the earth increased significantly in the past 80 years?” The answer key says, No.

    My current understanding is that a simple Yes or No to this question is really tough right now. This 2007 book strongly leans on satellite data showing no temp increase. When I read that I thought, “What!? If that’s true, this shouldn’t even be a world discussion anymore!” On researching it for myself I found that (1) converting the signals satellites pick up to temperature is not easy, and (2) the data has since been reinterpreted to show tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling, both consistent with the “mainstream” thinking of global warming. The WSJ article you site in this blog post even says, “We *know*, for instance, that during the 20th century the Earth’s global average surface temperature rose 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit” (emphasis added).

    Well, I tried to bring my two 8th graders into the bigger questions behind the issue and expose them to both sides of the controversy. They both answered “Yes” to that test question, and I did not mark it wrong, but I wish I would have led them in such a way that they would have answered, “I don’t know,” and be able to talk intelligently about both sides.

    I guess I’m writing because I’m wondering if your own views on that test question have changed in the years since publishing the book. “Has the average temp of the earth increased significantly in the past 80 years?”

    (I’m truly asking from a viewpoint of wanting to learn more – I haven’t been carefully watching all this. Your blog post here *really* is an eyebrow-raiser: http://blog.drwile.com/?p=12657)

    Thanks!
    Jason

    1. jlwile says:

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for your question. Remember, the question asks whether or not the earth’s temperature has risen “significantly.” The answer to that question is “no,” because even if the average surface temperature has risen by 1.4 degrees during the 20th century (and as the article to which you linked points out, much of that could be an artifact of smoothing), that’s still not significant. The average temperature of the earth is roughly 58 degrees F. The increase, if it has happened, is a mere 2%. That’s not significant, and it is certainly within the variation that has been seen throughout the history of the planet.

      I do agree that global temperature is difficult to measure and that the major data sets (MSU, RSS, etc.) disagree with one another to some extent. This, of course, also points to the insignificance of any warming that has occurred. When multiple data sets cannot give you a consistent answer, it’s probably because the effect you are looking for is too small to be measured.

      Please note that the satellite temperatures presented in the book are for the middle troposphere only. Thus, the stratospheric cooling (which is real), is not included in those temperatures.

  3. jasonp says:

    Thanks for the quick response, and that’s a helpful clarification. I suppose some may debate whether it’s significant or not, but your points seem very reasonable — 2% is relatively small, and that the data sets being inconsistent is itself a good clue is an excellent point.

    I do tend to believe that mainstream science has gotten (and still gets) messed up by politics and media, and even well-intentioned scientists can allow these forces to bias their research. At the same time I try hard to not throw all-in with the alternative viewpoints without thinking critically, and your response here has been really helpful in my exploring this issue.

    Thanks for taking the time!
    Jason